EVEN when they’re a bit off-colour, Cork Constitution still found a way to see out January on a winning note by completing a double over Ballynahinch at Temple Hill on Saturday.
It was a tedious afternoon for the home side, who again had to play without the services of out-half and captain Aidan Moynihan, sidelined with a leg injury, and Con certainly missed his direction and control, particularly with the boot.
Former skipper Niall Kenneally moved from centre to an emergency number 10 role and slotted in well, but Con’s problems were elsewhere and in a most unlikely area, up front, where the scrum, and especially Liam O’Connor fell foul of referee Jonathan Erskine.
In addition, Con’s line-out didn’t function as fluently as normal and that coupled with a strong show of defiance from the Ulster side, who had won their last four games in energia All-Ireland League Division 1, led to a long 80 minutes plus.
The opening scrum after three minutes hinted at what lay in store for while Con were edging forward, Hinch were awarded a penalty, the official indicating O’Connor wasn’t scrummaging straight. Out-half Greg Hutley’s effort fell short.
Still, all seemed well enough with the world, when Con jumped in front in the 12th minute with a trademark try.
George Coomber planted a penalty to the corner, from where hooker Billy Scannell found Sean Duffy and the Con forwards rumbled over the line for Scannell to claim his fifth try of the campaign with Coomber converting for 7-0.
Things went askew after that, however, Erskine incurred the wrath of the home side by again penalising O’Connor at a scrum in which Hinch were in reverse gear.
Much of the play was centred in no-man’s-land between the two 10m lines with neither side capable of breaching well-organised defences until Hinch were handed a golden opportunity coming up to half-time.
O’Connor must have thought he had a target on his back after conceding a penalty for a high tackle that appeared innocuous before whistled up for pulling down his opposite prop Kyle McCall in the next scrum.
It sparked Hinch’s best attacking period in the game, but Con held out heroically with a series of crunching tackles to keep their line intact before their opponents lost control of the ball, which Con hacked up field to see out the half, 7-3 in front.
Despite dominating most of the second half and, twice, having an extra man after Hinch lost players to the sin-bin, Con struggled to reflect their superiority on the scoreboard.
Instead of kicking at the posts, they opted for attacking line-outs instead only to be met by equally outstanding defence by the Hinch forwards, who lost second-row Cormac Izuchukwu to a yellow card after 50 minutes.
The visitors managed to survive with 14 men only to concede a second try in identical circumstances after 65 minutes, replacement hooker Max Abbott driven over following a close-range line-out for his fourth in the league. Coomber added the extras, 14-4.
In a frantic finish, Hinch had flanker Zack McCall yellow-carded after 74 minutes, but Con couldn’t capitalise from a promising position inside the visitors’ 22, more fierce work at the breakdown yielding a relieving penalty.
And Hinch will kick themselves for coughing up a great opportunity of salvaging a losing bonus point in the closing play, five minutes into stoppage time.
They engineered a five-metre line-out on the right but couldn’t keep the ball as Con disrupted their jumpers, leading to the final whistle.
Tries: B Scannell and M Abbott, Cons: G Coomber (2)
Pen: G Hutley.
G Coomber; M Bowen, G Higgins, H O’Riordan, B Crowley; N Kenneally, L Kahn; L O’Connor, B Scannell, L Masters; S Duffy, C O’Flaherty; J Kelleher, D Hyland, J Murphy.
M Abbott, J Blair, A Ryan, M Stafford, I Leonard, D Hurley.
H Hitchens; C McAuley, G Pringle, R Wilson, A Cairns; G Huntley, C Gibson; N Caldera, C Milligan, K McCall; C Izuchukwu, T Donnan, captain; Z McCall, J McCartney, B Luney.
J Hanlon, G Saunderson, J Charles, K Gill, A Murphy, J Martin, C Doherty.
J Erskine (IRFU).